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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Choosing Your Tele-Zoom

Some of the best nature photographers share thoughts and tips on their favorite medium telephoto zoom lenses

Click Images To EnlargeThis Article Features Photo Zoom
James Shadle
James ShadleJames Shadle
Accomplished nature photographer James Shadle conducts photography workshops and tours to some of the most beautiful bird rookeries in the world. His primary lens for years has been a 600mm ƒ/4, but his enslavement to the one long focal length was preventing him from realizing the potential of all the photographic opportunities available.

"I decided a lens in the 70-300mm range would open up a whole new world of opportunities. It's more of a 'sidearm’ than a 'big gun," says Shadle. "After doing a little research, I decided to purchase a Tamron AF70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2. I found the Tamron lens to be light and compact, fast focusing and well made. But it was the lens' sharpness that really impressed me. I’m so confident in the results I get from my Tamron 70-300mm that, on many occasions, I leave my 600mm at home."

Stephen Lang
Stephen LangStephen Lang
In addition to documenting Native American culture and architecture, past and present, for well over 15 years, Stephen Lang is an emerging landscape and wildlife photographer. A Navajo Indian himself, Lang says the Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG and 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 DG Macro are two of Sigma’s best telephotos.

"They’re ideal for nature shooting as they have a perfect focal length for both close and far subjects" says Lang,"and I can always add a teleconverter if I want to go for even more distant subjects—all this, while staying sharp and keeping my ƒ-stop within reason. For nature, adventure sports or even event photography, these lenses are pretty much in my bag all the time."

Carol Polich
Carol PolichCarol Polich
Whether doing assignment work or shooting her own wildlife and scenic images, Carol Polich loves the quality and focal range of the Sigma 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 APO DG Macro. "When people ask me what lens to get" says Polich, "I tell them you don’t want to go any smaller than 300mm at the top end, and I often recommend the 70-300mm in particular. So if an animal is close, you can shoot at 70mm to 100mm, for example, if you want to include details from the surrounding environment. Or you can zoom in real tight and isolate that bison or wildebeest or whatever it is you’re photographing. You also can do macro work on flowers or lizards, which happen to be one of my favorite subjects."

Polich says variable zooms and how they’re made have come a long way in the last few years. The quality is just excellent. "I’ve been using Sigma lenses since 1993, and I’ve been published all over for 15 or 16 years, so the quality in the optics is definitely there."

Connie Bransilver
Moose Peterson
As a wildlife photographer with a passion for North America’s wildlife and wild places, Moose Peterson relies heavily on the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED. "I love to go out on a cold, crisp morning when the big game is out browsing" says Peterson. "The photography is marvelous with midrange teles attached to my D3s. It’s a focal length that’s very important to my style of photography, especially when it comes to mammals."

Because most of time he’s not using a tripod, Peterson likes the fact that the 70-200mm is easy to handhold. Being nimble and having the ability to make quick adjustments is critical since he may have only a few seconds to frame a Rocky Mountain bighorn or a snowshoe hare before snapping the shutter.

What Lens Is Best For You?
The ideal telephoto zoom for you depends on your shooting needs. The pros to whom we’ve spoken in this article have offered their insights as to what works best for them and why. Getting that kind of perspective from the people who make their living from these modern marvels of technology can help to guide you in making the best choices for your needs and style of shooting.

Ask yourself the important questions. What focal-length range will be most useful to the kind of photography you do or want to do? If your camera isn’t a full-frame, consider the magnification factor of your camera and how that will affect the focal range. Does the lens offer a fixed maximum aperture like ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/4 at any focal length, or is it variable—changing as you zoom? Consider weight and how that will add to the overall weight of your gear. Is the added expense of built-in stabilization important for you because you like to handhold the camera or maybe you just want that versatility? Modern lenses are so good, it’s hard to go wrong.

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